“Imagine being over 3000 miles away from home for your undergraduate degree, and while your parents are worried about you and your health, the only doctors on your family’s insurance you can access are off campus,” said Shruti Dharmaraj.
Hailing from Chandler, Arizona, Dharmaraj is a senior graduating cum laude this May with her Bachelor’s of Science in one of the most rigorous majors at NJIT, Biomedical Engineering. Dharmaraj is a member of the Honors College, a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, a brother of the Alpha Phi Omega community service fraternity, and is heavily involved with neuroscience research.
While Dharmaraj is graduating with many accolades, a lack of access to on-campus health services almost made her achievements impossible. In the spring of her junior year, Dharmaraj’s bronchitis began acting up, preventing her from going to the gym, engaging in other physical activity, and focusing on her schoolwork.
NJIT’s Department of Student Health Services is affiliated with a pharmacy off-campus and after the first time bronchitis symptoms were experienced, Dharmaraj received a prescription from Dr. Judy Washington for medication.
“The pharmacy that NJIT has is open to the public and honestly I did not feel safe at the pharmacy,” commented Dharmaraj. After receiving the medication the first and only time, she continued to receive charges to her insurance every month for antibiotic refills she had neither requested nor received. Dr. Judy Washington, the previous doctor on campus, then left, and when Dharmaraj experienced strong bronchitis symptoms the second, third, and fourth time, there was no doctor to help on campus.
Towards the end of that spring semester, Dharmaraj’s health interfered with her ability to study for finals. “I was stuck in bed…I was coughing so severely my rib cage was painful to touch,” added Dharmaraj.
Since Dr. Judy Washington’s departure from NJIT last spring, many other students like Shruti have been experiencing difficulty receiving the medical care they need.
In the first week of December last fall semester, Hyder Ali, a junior biomedical engineering student also in the Honors College, visited NJIT’s Student Health Services when he was also feeling very ill. After talking to a nurse there, he was redirected to Dr. Washington’s temporary office at St. Michael’s Medical Center.
“I remember Dr. Washington was sad that she couldn’t be at NJIT because the administration refused to renew her contract for a full time salary, and they renewed her on a part time deal…this resulted in her not even knowing if she would have a job between months,” recalled Ali, “she was a great doctor and really liked working with the students. Dr. Washington eventually left her temporary position at St. Michael’s Medical Center, and is now currently an Associate Director for Overlook Medical Center’s Family Medicine Residency Program.
To substitute for an on campus doctor, NJIT’s Department of Student Health Services has a contract with Saint Michael’s Medical Center which involves part-time medical support from two physicians that rotate between regular business hours on Monday through Friday, from 9 AM to 5 PM.
“In addition to this ‘outsourced’ position, a complement of full-time staff, including a Registered Nurse, a Certified Medical Assistant and an Office Coordinator are available on campus to address student health needs”, said Edward Bishof, Senior Vice President for Finance & CFO at NJIT.
When asked about the search for a new on-campus physician, Dr. Laura Valente, Associate Vice President for Student Engagement, said a candidate was initially selected for hire. However, the university made a decision not to hire the candidate Dr. Valente had selected. “I have now stepped away from this situation and I am unaware of the details about the current status of a search for a permanent solution to this problem,” admitted Dr. Valente.
Students like Shruti who have medical needs have been waiting for over a year now on a decision by administration on the future of NJIT’s Student Health Services on campus. Administration is promising high expectations and standards for the future of NJIT’s on campus health services.
“[Our healthcare service] has to provide health education, wellness education and programming and nutrition counseling. Our plan is that our future service can provide these and more for our students going forward,” promised Dr. Charles Fey, Vice President for Academic Support and Student Affairs.